by Eric Zuesse for The Saker Blog
On June 15th, the U.S. Supreme Court, with only the libertarian right-wing (basically anti-government) Clarence Thomas dissenting — reaffirmed that America’s law-enforcement officers have “qualified immunity” from prosecution when they do things such as to shoot an innocent person in his own yard whose unthreatening pet dog is seeking his protection from an officer who is trying to shoot it; or, as the libertarian lawyer Jay Schweikert put this matter: “the Supreme Court let stand an Eleventh Circuit decision granting immunity to a police officer who shot a ten-year-old child in the back of the knee, while repeatedly attempting to shoot a pet dog that wasn’t threatening anyone.” The officer was Deputy Sheriff Michael Vickers, of Coffee County, Georgia. He had been chasing a suspect, who happened to cross into the yard of Amy Corbitt, who at that time happened to be chatting with another adult, Damion Stewart. One of her children was referred to in the case as “SDC.” Here is how the lower court ruling stated the incident:
At some point after Vickers and the other officers entered Corbitt’s yard, the officers “demanded all persons in the area, including the children, to get down on the ground.” An officer handcuffed Stewart and placed a gun at his back. … Then, “while the children were lying on the ground obeying [Vickers’s] orders … without necessity or any immediate threat or cause, [Vickers] discharged his firearm at the family pet named ‘Bruce’ twice.” The first shot missed, and Bruce (a dog) temporarily retreated under Corbitt’s home. No other efforts were made to restrain or subdue the dog, and no one appeared threatened by him. Eight or ten seconds after Vickers fired the first shot, the dog reappeared and was “approaching his owners,” when Vickers fired a second shot at the dog. This shot also missed the dog, but the bullet struck SDC in the back of his right knee. At the time of the shot, SDC was “readily viewable” and resting “approximately eighteen inches from Vickers, lying on the ground, face down, pursuant to the orders of [Vickers].” Barnett (the fleeing suspect) “was visibly unarmed and readily compliant” with officers. According to the complaint, “[a]t no time did SDC, or any other children … present any threat or danger to provoke … Vickers to fire two shots.” Importantly, the parties do not dispute that Vickers intended to shoot the dog and not SDC. Corbitt, individually and as SDC’s parent and guardian, brought a civil action against Vickers in his individual capacity pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint alleged deprivations of the right to be free from excessive force as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. … In response, Vickers filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). He asserted that he was entitled to qualified immunity because case law had not staked out a “bright line” indicating that the act of firing at the dog and unintentionally shooting SDC was unlawful.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Deputy Sheriff Michael Vickers. The case against Vickers was one of many such, throughout the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling dismissed all of them for the same reason. Here is how the Rutherford Institute, which backed all of these cases against the officers, phrased the officers’ argument in one of these cases:
Qualified immunity shielded the defendants’ actions from liability because Petitioner could not point to any factually identical case clearly establishing that law enforcement officials exceeded the scope of Petitioner’s consent to enter her home when they essentially destroyed her home. That reasoning sets an impossible standard. Because courts are free to advance to the ‘clearly established’ prong of the qualified immunity inquiry without first deciding threshold constitutional questions, it is unlikely that a body of case law with closely analogous factual circumstances will ever develop.
In other words: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that unless Congress will pass a new law which will specifically apply the 4th and the 14th Amendments so as to enable prosecution of law-enforcement officers who do the specific listed sorts of things that unequivocally are identified in those new statutes as being prohibited under those Amendments, America’s law-enforcement officers are free to continue doing these sorts of things and to avoid any sort of legal liability for having done them.
Attorney Schweikert headlined on June 15th “The Supreme Court’s Dereliction of Duty on Qualified Immunity”, and wrote about the Court’s ruling:
It’s impossible to know for sure what motivated the Court to deny all of these petitions. But one possibility is that the Justices were looking closely at developments in Congress — where members of both the House and the Senate have introduced bills that would abolish qualified immunity — and decided to duck the question, hoping to pressure Congress to fix the Court’s mess. It is certainly encouraging that so many legislators have finally turned their attention to qualified immunity. But the mere fact that Congress can fix this mess doesn’t absolve the Supreme Court of its obligation to fix what it broke — the Court conjured qualified immunity out of nothing in the first place, and the Justices had both the authority and responsibility to correct their own blunders, no matter what happens in the legislature.
Qualified immunity will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s most egregious, costly, and embarrassing mistakes. None of the Justices on the Court today were responsible for creating this doctrine, but they all had a responsibility to fix it — and except for Justice Thomas, they all shirked that responsibility. It is now all the more urgent that Congress move forward on this issue and ensure that all public officials — especially members of law enforcement — are held accountable for their misconduct.
However, Schweikert contradicts himself there, because he simultaneously acknowledges that qualified immunity was concocted by the Court and not imposed into the law by the Congress and signed into the law by the President. So, there is disingenousness in Schweikert’s proposed ‘solution’. An evil that is introduced by the U.S. Supreme Court cannot be eliminated by the U.S. Congress and a good President. Nor can it be eliminated by successfully going through the lengthy and arduous process of passing a new Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. No matter what types of actions by law-enforcement officers would be specifically listed in any such new law or new Constitutional Amendment, it would fail. An arbitrary, basically evil, U.S. Supreme Court will always be able to place its imprimatur upon and validate new rationalizations for the police-state that they have been constructing in this country, especially after 9/11. Congress and the President can’t fix this, they can’t fix a problem that they didn’t themselves create, but Congress and the President can condemn and shame the Court — which they never do. Better yet, they can impeach all of the sitting ‘Justices’ and replace them with decent people. But each of this Court’s members was placed there by the Congresses, and by the Presidents. It’s an extremely vicious circle, and no part of it can fix other parts of it.
This isn’t a failure ONLY by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is instead an expression of the American system as it now exists, and which failure renders the U.S. Constitution itself almost meaningless, especially as regards the rights of the people and the obligations of federal officials at all levels in the government. There is no accountability; there is only blame. And, as in any authoritarian system, all blame goes downward, and all praise goes upward. That’s the reality. The U.S. Constitution is by now just a string of words. America’s Founders are dead, gone, and no longer really even an influence. That’s the reality. Pretending otherwise won’t fix anything. Drastic changes are needed. And the American public has proven itself not up to the challenge, still refuses to face the reality. This is system-failure. And the public refuses to face it.
The corruption is beyond control, and the public ends up paying for all of it. People such as Amy Corbitt and her son “SBC” are mere collateral damages in such a system. The beneficiaries from the system run the system. The least that the public can do is to call it a “dictatorship” instead of a “democracy.” The most that the public can do is overthrow it and replace it with one that has the same Constitution and none of the existing case-law, and that adds a few Amendments, such as this. Also essential would be an entirely new and more rigorous methodology for interpreting the Constitution. There is no existing rigorous methodology for Constitutional interpretation. The present chaos in that regard is virtually inviting the degeneration and predominant corruption that currently exist. Especially after World War II, the U.S. Supreme Court has increasingly taken advantage of that chaos.
Currently, the phrase “American justice” is oxymoronic.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.